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Striving For Healthcare Access In A Difficult Economy

By GE Citizenship July 27, 2012

In a blog post for GE Citizenship, Ulysses Kilgore, III, president and CEO of Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, discusses the importance of patient education.

With the economy in the state it’s in — with people losing jobs and their healthcare benefits — it is imperative that there be health reform that grants access for all in need. In New York, hospitals are losing money, some are closing, and the circumstances don’t bode well for our people. While there will always be concern over the dollars and cents, it’s not just the financial bottom line we have to worry about — we also have to look at the social bottom line. When services are slashed in hopes of cutting costs, our communities get caught in a downward spiral

If we are going to talk about rebuilding the economy, we have to make sure people stay healthy to take advantage of job opportunities when they come back around. While addressing financial short falls, we need to remain committed to meeting the needs of our communities. We have to step up to the plate and welcome all those who enter our doors — ensure they’re treated fairly, and give them access to care as if they had the means.

We believe in taking a holistic approach to health care, looking at both physical and mental health issues. If you have a patient with high blood pressure who is recently out of a job, you can’t just give diet advice or a prescription, because those remedies don’t fix their unemployment. It’s that unemployment that is the generator of stress in the first place. In our community, folks are under incredible stress in this economy, and it’s daunting for clinics like ours. But we must emphasize it is a transitory situation and the economy should improve and that people need be ready for it by being in a good state of health.

For too long, the view has been that the doctor has the final responsibility for the health of the patient. But if an average patient sees the doctor only four times a year, what’s happening every other day of that patient’s life? What types of decisions are they making around diet and exercise? It is important that we recognize it is the patient that must ultimately assume responsibility for wellness and healing. The education component is extremely important because there is no way a physician can effect change through prescriptions alone or by performing a check up a few times per year. We must get inside a patient’s head so that health is a matter of consciousness.

We have a free six-week, diabetes education and self-management course that has been in place at our clinic for over two decades. The course involves educational training, healthy cooking demonstrations and a hands-on approach to care that has proved to be incredibly effective. As patients progress through the course, you watch them become transformed — some are taken off medications, they discover the joy of movement and exercise, and feel good about themselves. Over the past 20 years, not one of our patients with diabetes has required an amputation, no patient has lost vision, and most have lost weight. They understand it is in their hands to make a difference in their lives. Through the Developing Health program, GE’s support has helped us expand access to the program when the dollars were tight.

Our success is centered on patient education and putting the patient in the driver’s seat to be responsible for the choices they make. It’s these choices that are the key determinants to health and longevity. It is our view that success is not the end of the road; it is the road. It is a matter of believing in people. Improvement is a constant, so we cannot move into a comfort zone — we must always try to be better. There’s much work to be done, and we strive to identify opportunities to improve and do things in a smarter way. By continuing to take advantage of technology, and think innovatively, we are able to get the biggest bang for every dollar spent and keep our doors open to all that need care.

Ulysses Kilgore, III, is president and CEO of Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center (BSFHC) in Brooklyn, New York. BSFHC is a Primary Care Health Facility, offering a broad range of integrative health care services, with an emphasis on prevention, education and critical support services. BSFHC is open to everyone, with a special focus on serving people in Central Brooklyn who are not insured or are underinsured. Each new patient is given a Patient’s Bill of Rights.